Daily Dispatches [CLICK FOR INDEX] Climber Dave Hahn The Kathmandu Duffel Shuffle
Sat, March 20, 1999 — Kathmandu, Nepal

Flying from Seattle to Los Angeles to Osaka to Bangkok to Kathmandu pretty well beat the stuffing out of us. Seven of us caught the plane to Asia as planned. Around hour 20 or so, we got to wishing that some other folks had missed it so that we could stretch out a little.

By the end of our aviation extravaganza we were just taking whatever meal got served up without thought as to how it fit in with the normal sequence of breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were equally content to let the sun do odd things at odd hours and were perfectly flexible when it came to messing with the calender at the international date line. This open-minded attitude didn't seem to reduce the ravages of jetlag, however. Too much time spent at altitude... once again. But when we got over Nepal, certain rewards for our suffering began to appear on the Northern horizon. The 8000 meter peaks were completely free of cloudcover and easily identifiable as we cruised along at summit level.

Our Boeing Triple 7 was fighting a tendency to list to starboard as all aboard pressed up against the windows for a view of Everest. The climbers, trying to keep the excitement from their voices and working hard (and with little success) to distinguish themselves from gawking, finger pointing, camera wielding tourists, commented on how little snow seemed to cover the upper mountain.

Everest was standing out sharp and black against the sky. It actually looked like a fine summit day, but looks can be deceptive when one is sitting in a big comfy chair with a beer can and a crew of flight attendants looking to solve any problem encountered. The plane started descending into a thick haze filling the Kathmandu Valley. We lost sight of Everest and the other humongous mountains with just enough flight time left to finish up our beverages and our entrance papers for Nepal. Just walking down onto the tarmac made the trip real, finally.

Kathmandu is not anything remotely like a North American city; different trees, different smells and a way different temperature for late winter greeted us. The walk into the terminal seemed to go a long way toward explaining why Everest had been so dark on the horizon during the approach. It was hot as blazes already in Kathmandu. Somebody mentioned that it had been months since the last rain in town, making it clear that the "normal" snowfalls hadn't been happening in the mountains. With just enough worry for farm crops and for environmental changes, we also allowed ourselves selfishly to hope that our climbing season and search for old camps and relics might be made easier by less snow. In the more immediate future, we supposed that next week's drive into Tibet might actually be easier with less snow. That could be a significant boost if it allowed access to the mountain several weeks earlier than the road closing avalanches had during the 1998 Spring climbing season.

First things first and one step at a time when the goal is so gargantuan. So before getting worried about the trip to the mountain, we needed to attend to more immediate challenges. The first significant one was the reclaiming of 66 duffel bags of food and gear. This got us a little notice as we piled up cart after cart with 70 pound bags. Eric got busy talking to the customs man as Jake, Tap, Conrad, Andy, Lee and myself proceeded to get sweaty wrestling luggage. Thanking our lucky stars that all the boots and crampons and Snickers bars had made the trip safely, we headed for the door and the mob of yelling drivers, laborers, beggars, and tour operators waiting just outside the door.

Amid the expected chaos, it was a great relief to see friendly and familiar faces as our Sherpa team from Great Escapes Trekking materialized to part the crowd and get us and our junk to the vans and trucks they'd arranged for the trip into town. The duffel shuffle proceeded with ease and I was reminded again what a pleasure it can be to go climbing with the pros. Since this core group of seven were all fairly experienced expeditioners, no one needed to be told to guard the bags on the perimeter, nobody needed to be rescued from the folks clamoring for handouts, nobody let go of their precious carry-on bags full of passports and money and duty-free whiskey.

The gear got loaded quickly, but in an orderly fashion... not a given when 50 kids and adults are yelling out Nepali questions and demands and 40 taxis are beeping their horns and trying to run over newcomers not yet used to looking the wrong way for traffic when they step off the curb. We piled into the vans for sanctuary in our hotel near the city center. That only came after a crazy ride dodging cows, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, rickshaws, people, more people, potholes and an ocaisional brave cop standing calmly in the center of it all. In short order, we got our rooms and went out back to the garden where we wasted no time in kicking off our shoes and ordering cold drinks.

It was fun then to sit and talk with Heather MacDonald, a climber and guide we know well who is trying out a different life this season as the assistant to Elizabeth Hawley. Liz is legendary to climbers as the woman who keeps track of who climbed what and when in the Himalaya. She has interviewed every expedition to a significant peak in the area for decades now. Magazines and journals all over the world depend on her climbing summaries and statistics and she is not at all shy about doing some digging to get her facts.

One is aware when one speaks with her that she is measuring the accomplishments you are claiming against those of mountaineering's celebrated heroes (most of whom she has grilled mercilessly for the low-down on their claimed deeds). In talking with Heather, we are enjoying the prospect of getting an easy interview... perhaps we'll make her believe we are worthy where Liz ordinarily wouldn't cut us slack. Nope. Heather, it turns out, still knows us too well. But she gives us some great info about the coming season. She is able to rattle off facts about who is going where and how many other teams we'll encounter and so forth. Good stuff to know in these days of exploding popularity for climbing.

After the garden, the final hours of our marathon travel days are spent in a haze of walking the streets, finding a rooftop cafe (where half of us fall asleep with our faces coming perilously close to our plates-full of fried rice) and then stumbling our way back to bed.

Today, we got going with a fine American-style breakfast outdoors and then we headed for Great Escapes to meet with the Sherpa team and begin wrestling with gear again. We'll be in Kathmandu for about four busy days. In that time, more of the team will be getting into town daily, the Sherpas and climbing members and cooks will have to get food and equipment sorted for trucking up and onto the Tibetan Plateau, we'll have to track down a million odds and ends and take care of a lot of business that can't come close to being handled at Base Camp.

We'll also try to stay healthy, well fed and rested, not always an easy thing in the Third World at what can be a stressfull time of a trip. Today, we all gained a renewed appreciation for Eric's logistical wizardry as we watched him whirl about calling for instantly calculated quantities of propane cooking canisters for Camp V and for replacement tent poles for this tent being different from those and for jobs to be attended to at Customs tomorrow and so forth. The rest of us are still in relatively low gear, Eric has been living and breathing this expedition for months to put in in action. The challenge for us now will be to catch up to his level of intensity as soon as possible to take some of the burden of responsibility from him.

Dave Hahn, Climber